What To Do if You Can't Put the Tone Ring You Want on the Banjo You Have
Banjo Setup File #9
I have received many pieces of e-mail lately concerning conversions of banjos that will not accept the tone rings the owners want to put on them. One example would be a fellow who has an archtop instrument. Many of these require severe modification to install a flathead tone ring. The solution to the problem is both simple and relatively inexpensive.
Naturally, you could have your rim modified to fit the tone ring you want to use, but if you are unsure of how it will sound, you certainly don't want to risk ruining an instrument that is otherwise perfectly decent.
The Answer--a New Rim!!!
Simply order a new rim from First Quality Musical Supplies or Janet Davis Music. I have used rims from both of these suppliers. You will most likely need to send your banjo rim with resonator flange to them to have the rim made correctly. Also, you should tell them what tone ring you plan to install. Both companies do good work, they work quickly, and they are honest. I have no qualms or reservations about dealing with either of them.
Once you get the rim back, stain it and lacquer it, and install the tone ring and your hardware. This way, all of the modifications you make are "bolt-on's" so you do not ruin any collector's value your instrument may have.
Dr. Rupert Hartman recently e-mailed another suggestion to me that will work for some people. To paraphrase his idea, if you are converting a pre-war archtop instrument to a flathead, you may not wish to go to the trouble of having another rim made for your banjo. Having a new rim made does require that you send part of your hardware to the person who is cutting the new rim. Also, you will have to finish it in some way, which will take at least a few days, if not longer. Several people have come up with an alternative solution, that is, the flathead conversion tone ring.
There are several archtop to flathead conversion tone rings available on the market. These are basically flathead tone rings that have a flatter profile than a normal flathead ring, so they will fit onto a rim that is made for an archtop tone ring, with little or no modification. The two most readily available of this type are the Sullivan arch top to flat top tone ring, available from First Quality Musical Supplies and the McPeake-Hopkins conversion tone ring, available from Curtis McPeake.
I have not actually heard the Sullivan conversion tone ring, but Dr. Hartman has one and says it sounds fine. He has a good ear, so I trust his judgment. I have heard the McPeake-Hopkins tone ring, and it is an excellent tone ring. In addition to this, Steve Huber has been known to make special tone rings for this purpose. You can contact him at Huber Banjos.
In addition to these, there is also the Kelly Conversion Ring. This is a drop-in that actually converts the archtop tone ring to a flathead. It sounds very good. I played a Granada that had one of these on it at SPBGMA this year, and it sounded quite good. It is the easiest of the conversion tone rings to install.
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